About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

December 30, 2013

A tale of two cities

Murder in Baltimore is at a four-year high.

Murder in New York City is at a record low.

Meanwhile, from Justin Fenton's Baltimore Sun article, in other cities:
Homicides across the country
Oakland, Calif. — down 25 percent (as of Dec. 12)
Philadelphia — down 24 percent (as of Dec. 16)
Flint, Mich. — down 22 percent (as of Dec. 18)
New Orleans — down 22 percent (as of Nov. 14)
Chicago — down 19 percent (as of Dec. 8)
Detroit — down 14.6 percent (as of Dec. 18)
Baltimore — up 8 percent (as of Dec. 24)
Newark, N.J. — up 19 percent (as of Dec. 1)
Washington — up 26 percent (as of Dec. 18)

December 28, 2013

Victory for Free Speech

From CNN: "'Duck Dynasty' resuming 'with the entire Robertson family,' including Phil."

It's only a victory for free speech if you don't like the speech. Seriously.

And now I really want to start watching the show.

A story about Obamaphones

Not they Obamaphones have anything to do with Obama. From the Times.

December 26, 2013

"Decreased Stop and Frisk Causes Crime to Skyrocket in NYC"

Well that's the headline I would have expected to see after listening to Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg (and almost all my police friends) over the past few years. They had me believe that each and every one of those more than 600,000 annual stops in 2011 was absolutely essential to prevent the city from descending into an Orwellian Escape from New York type chaos!

Well this year stop, question, and frisks are down 50 percent and homicides are down another 20 percent (which is really amazing).

Today the city released a press release touting this most recent crime drop (did I mention how amazing this is?!). Interestingly, nothing was said about stop and frisk. How odd.

So while some stop and frisks are needed -- you know, ones based police officers' actual reasonable suspicion that a suspect is armed -- it seem like the NYPD can do just fine, gosh, perhaps even better, while stopping 800 fewer people per day.

The problem when you try and quantify the "productivity" of police work (or almost any occupation) is that those being judged start to play to the stats. Means becomes ends. Ends be damned.

But now Bloomberg barely gives the police any credit at all! Here's the press release:
To: Interested Parties
From: Howard Wolfson
RE: T-Minus 5

Over the last 10 days, Mayor Bloomberg has been to each of the five boroughs, cutting ribbons, touring schools, riding on a new subway extension, visiting new parks, and discussing the incredible progress of the last twelve years.

Today and tomorrow the Mayor will highlight the Administration’s record fighting crime while reducing incarceration rates by visiting a Neighborhood Opportunity Network Center and by attending his final police graduation ceremony to swear in more than 1,100 police recruits.

Under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly crime has fallen in New York City to record lows:

Safest big city in the nation: New York City has fewer major felony crimes per 100,000 residents than any of the nation’s top 25 largest cities.

Total Crime: Down 32% compared to 2001, despite the added demand of counterterrorism, having fewer officers in the ranks, and adding 300,000 more people to the city’s population.

Murder: On pace to have a record low number of murders in 2013 following a record low established in 2012.
Murder is down 49% compared to 2001.

Shootings: On pace to have a record low number of shootings in 2013 following a record low established in 2012.

Terrorism: Since 9/11, there has not been a successful terror attack against New York City, despite the city remaining a top terror target.

At the same time that Ray Kelly and the NYPD have brought crime to record lows, the Bloomberg Administration has actually reduced incarceration rates in New York City by 36% over the last twelve years.

This drop occurred as the national incarceration rate rose by 3% during the same period.

So during the last twelve years, the United States also saw crime declines, but it was achieved by locking more people up. But New York City didn’t reduce crime by locking more people up: in fact the City actually put fewer and fewer of its citizens behind bars as crime fell to record lows.

How? The crime prevention strategies implemented by the NYPD, and under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Gibbs, Commissioners Vincent Schiraldi, Dora Schriro and others the City have expanded use of felony drug courts, alternative-to-incarceration programs for substance abusers, expanded alternatives to jail sentences for misdemeanants, created more effective probation programs and implemented the Young Men’s Initiative, which is reducing increasing opportunities for young black and Latino men and reducing the number of young black and Latino men who are entering the criminal justice system.

The result? New York City is the safest it has ever been.

December 24, 2013

Rolling Santa

And here's a song to put you in the Christmas spirit: Stuck in the Smoke Hole of our Tipi. Merry Christmas!

December 22, 2013

"Obama Care" Seized By Police

Gotta love it!

Are you with Phil Robertson? Or David Bahati?

Phil Robertson is the suspended star of Duck Dynasty.

David Bahati is the Ugandan parliament member sponsoring the Anti-Homosexuality Bill known as “Kill the Gays.”

Guess who said what (answers below):

1) “To me, this exposed the level of intolerance that is inconsistent with American values. But as you know it also strengthen my resolve to carry on a cause that I think is right and just. My resolve is still intact.”

2) “My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together.

3) Homosexuality “is un-[American/African] because it is inconsistent with [our] values, of procreation and of the belief in the continuity of family.”

4) “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

5) “When an anal organ is used for things it’s not supposed to be used for, it’s hazardous. I don’t need to be taught anything beyond that.”

6) “It seems like, to me, a vagina -- as a man -- would be more desirable than a man’s anus,”

7) “We need to turn to God if we have sinned. That is the view of myself as a Christian. But that is not something that is agreed by others, but I hold that view that [homosexuality] is sin and written in the Bible. I cannot change the Bible. And I really want to encourage American Christians and God-fearing people to stand up for what they feel is right.”

8 ) “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

9) “I’m more convinced than I was so many years ago that this evil is real and needs to be fought. But we must say that we don’t hate them, we hate the sin in them.”

10) “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine.”

11) “I am a God fearing person…. We hope it is a learned behavior that can be unlearned.”

12) “If you simply put your faith in Jesus … dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then.”

13) “We are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way.”

14) “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. … I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

15) “Don’t remind me that you took me as a slave. Don’t remind me that you took our resources to enrich your countries. Don’t tell me you’re more superior than I am. You have funded us for over 50 years – have you changed anything? These activists are agents of imperialism and we’re not going to take it easily. They are agents of colonialism. How can you continue to act like slave masters?

16) “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”

17) “Americans believe in freedom, human rights, in the freedom of expression and also tolerance.”

18) Our “family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

19) “There has been a lot of spin, a lot of negative propaganda... It is important that we tolerate one another, listen to on another, understand the background of on another, and respect one another.”

20) “I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

21) “I do not hate gays. I love them.”

22) “Why don’t we go back to the old days?”


odd numbers (1, 3, 5, - 21): Ugandan MP David Bahati
even numbers (2, 4, 6, - 22): suspended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson

December 21, 2013

“Why are cops such assholes?”

This is a question I’ve been asked a surprising number of times (Once by a national TV host during a commercial break). Usually the tone is joking (ie: completely serious). A certain lazy and rude cop in Chicago got me thinking about it.

My answer: “Because they can.”

As a non-asshole (in my humble opinion) former police officer, this is a question I take quite seriously. I think rude policing is actually a bigger problem corrupt and/or brutal policing. The latter categories, quite honestly, are rare. Rude cops are more common and are probably more damaging to policing as a whole.

First let me say that most cops are not assholes. If you think all cops are assholes, there’s a good chance you are one.

But when you ask, “Why are some cops such assholes?” are you really asking, “why was this cop rude to me?” If it’s just the latter, consider A) you refused a lawful order, B) you incorrectly asserted “rights” you don't, in fact, have (often related to A) or C) you asked a really stupid question

But what if the answer is D) None of the above. Then read on.

But certainly we’ve all seen some cops act like dicks. But think about it: if you had to deal with the public at your job, and you could be rude, would you be? Maybe not all of the time... but some of the time?

Have you never been rude to another motorist? Your partner? Your kids? The TV? A minimum wage employee? Well if that’s your personality and you’re a cop, you’re going to be a rude cop. This is not unique to policing (I’ve also heard some rumors about DMV employees). Public servants can be rude because 1) they don’t like their job, 2) they have job security and 3) they have to deal with the public at the public’s discretion.

But it gets more complicated because there are cops being rude and there are rude cops.

Think of three situations of rudeness: sometimes cops should be rude; sometimes cops can be rude; and sometimes cops are just plain rude.

Yes, there are times when police should be rude. Sometimes a stern talking-down-to is needed. It can be an alternative to arrest. Other times something needs to be done quickly and yelling and cursing can sometimes quickly achieve a desired goal. Sometimes.

There are other times when police don’t have to be rude, but I’ll still cut them some slack. Sometimes people do, in fact, ask for it. If you treat police (or anybody) horribly, insert Golden Rule here. I’m not saying these instances represent the apex of police professionalism, but asking a cop “why?” or asserting your “rights” (especially incorrectly, which is usually the case) is not going to endear yourself to an officer of the law. This is John Van Maanen’s (1978) concept of “The Asshole.” Police have a "moral mandate" and need to “maintain their edge” against those who are “culpable and blameworthy for their affronting action.” And if you are not an “asshole” or a “suspicious person, then you are, in Van Maanen’s trichotomy, a “know nothing.” That's the best case scenario. So try and put yourself in the officer’s shoes. Or maybe they’re just having a bad day. Try not to make it worse.

But there’s still the third category of rudeness, the one people ask me about, when police are assholes “for no reason.” “Yes!” they say, “Why was the cop rude to me. For I am not an idiot!” Well, actually...

But let’s assume the officer was just a dick. Yes, even I have seen such instances. There were times when even I couldn’t help but say, why is Enser being such a dick? (just to pick a random but rhyming name)

Because he was a bitter man. Because he was not a better man.

Because he can.

How to prevent assholes who are cops from acting like the assholes they are is not an easy task. Pity the sergeant, but this is where both supervision and peer pressure come into play. And bad officers do not get promoted out of patrol. (And of course, unfortunately, nobody is ever promoted into patrol.)

Here’s my problem with asshole cops: it’s not so much that they’re being an asshole. I can often rationalize that away (see above). No, my problem is that the rude cop is a bad cops. I’m not saying this in a moral sense (“who am I to judge?”) but in a tactical sense.

Rude police are bad police because they don’t do their job efficiently. The witness was going to say something until the cop yelled at him for sticking around.

Rude police are bad police because they don’t do their job safely. The rude cop shows up at a scene, recently calmed, and immediately gets into a pissing contest with some drunkard idiot. The rude cop turns a routine arrest into full-on brawl.

I often half-jokingly (ie: completely seriously) propose that four of the six months of the police academy would be better spend waiting tables at a good restaurant. Restaurants are the perfect training ground: stressful, real world, but rarely life and death. I learned a lot working for tips: multitasking, prioritizing situations (triage), staying calm under pressure, dealing with idiots, communicating efficiently, standing up for a long hours, eating quickly, holding one’s pee, and washing hands as often as possible.

But the most important thing is dealing with obnoxious customers and maintain a professional cool. A lot of customers are assholes. A lot of customers are having bad days. So good waiters learn to achieve their goal while being polite to people they hate. A professional gets the job done and goes you home in one piece. And that’s police rule number one.

(I wrote a similar post 5 years ago)

Idiot walks through bus robbing people at gunpoint, gets beat down

The stories don't usually have happy endings. And it was caught on video.

He then kicked the window out of the police.

But the robber's mother said this was "not within his character." Oh, mom.

December 20, 2013

Why (some) good people don't like cops

Because (some) cops enforce non-existent laws and treat them like sh*t. Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about a recent encounter with police on the streets of Chicago:
Catercorner to the volunteers of Safe Passage, two cops sat in an SUV, snug and warm. Our video team was shooting the conversation between our host and the kid. One of the cops rolled down his window and yelled, "Excuse me you need to take your cameras off this corner. It's Safe Passage."
When the officer wanted us to move, there was a very easy way to handle the situation. You step our your car. You introduce yourself. You ask questions about what we're doing. If we are breaking the law, you ask us to move. If we are not breaking the law and simply making your life hard, we are likely to move anyway. You are the power.

The cop did not speak to us as though he were human. He spoke to us like a gangster, like he was protecting his block. He was solving no crime. He was protecting no lives. He was holding down his corner. He didn't even bother with a change of uniform. An occupied SUV, parked at an intersection, announces its masters intentions.

December 19, 2013

Alcohol and drug use down among teens, despite what the headline says

Let's play a game called "write the headline." Here's the story from the New York Times:
According to the latest federal figures, which were part of an annual survey, Monitoring the Future.... The report looked at a wide variety of drugs and substances. It found, for example, that drinking was steadily declining, with roughly 40 percent of high school seniors reporting having used alcohol in the past month, down from a peak of 53 percent in 1997. Abuse of the prescription painkiller Vicodin is half what it was a decade ago among seniors; cocaine and heroin use are at historic lows in almost every grade.

Cigarette smoking has also fallen precipitously in recent years. For the first time since the survey began, the percentage of students who smoked a cigarette in the past month dropped below 10 percent. Roughly 8.5 percent of seniors smoke cigarettes on a daily basis, compared with 6.5 percent who smoke marijuana daily, a slight increase from 2010.

[Also] More than 12 percent of eighth graders and 36 percent of seniors at public and private schools around the country said they had smoked marijuana in the past year. About 60 percent of high school seniors said they did not view regular marijuana use as harmful, up from about 55 percent last year.
How would you summarize this story in one headline?

No matter what you pick, I bet you can beat what what the Times editor came up with: "Increasing Marijuana Use in High School Is Reported"! The exclamation point is mine.

December 6, 2013

14 years on, if I were still a cop

Today is my EOD, just FYI. The day before the day that will live in infamy. I'm thrilled I don't have another 9 to go.

Broken Windows does not equal Zero Tolerance

This article in Slate by Justin Peters is perhaps not the stupidest thing I've ever read on policing. But it is the stupidest thing I've read about Broken Windows since Bratton was announced as the next NYPD commissioner about 20 hours ago.

Peters writes, "Broken-windows strategies and zero-tolerance policing strategies go hand in hand." Well, no. They don't. Bill Bratton is not a defender of Zero Tolerance policing. He never has been. In fact, Broken Windows is the philosophical opposite of Zero Tolerance. Bill Bratton can tell you why this is so. George Kelling can tell you why this is so. Kelling is the guy who coined the phrase and write the "Broken Windows" article (coauthored with James Q. Wilson) in the March, 1982, issue of the Atlantic. (I took a class from Kelling back in the 1990s when I was a graduate student at Harvard.) And I can tell you how. This and why so many seemingly rational people oppose Broken Windows -- often on an ideological level -- is important. And I will tell you this, but not tonight. It's late and I'm going to bed. But I leave you with this:
The equation ... between police order-maintenance activities (“broken windows”) and “zero tolerance” for disorderly behavior raises issues that go beyond semantics. ... It is an equation that I have never made, find worrisome, and have argued against, considering the phrase “zero tolerance” not credible and smacking of zealotry.
--George Kelling "‘Broken Windows’ and Police Discretion." NIJ (1999).

December 5, 2013

Good news from Chicago

NBC Chicago Reports via Atlantic Cities:
Chicago closed out the first 11 months of 2013 with 380 murders, a drop from 474 in the same period of 2012, according to police data. That's the fewest for any year in Chicago since 1965, according to Adam Collins, the Chicago Police Department Director of News Affairs.

De Blasio Names Bratton as New York Police Commissioner

This is exciting news for policing (and police research) in NYC.

November 22, 2013

"Taxpayers" Riot in Nebraska after Cop Killed. South Omaha Greektown burned and looted!

What? It's true!

(Even if it is from 1909.)

Why do I mention this? Maybe because it all started when a Greek-American shot and killed South Omaha Police Officer Ed Lowery. Or maybe not.

Look, this has nothing to do with police (except for the aforementioned killing), but my third book is finally out. It's done. It's a Moskos and Moskos production. It has a dorky cover. And you can buy Greek Americans on Amazon.

Greek Americans makes a great Christmas present...

But let's be realistic: I know you're not going to buy this book for yourself. But you might buy it for that Greek guy or girl you know. And come on, you do know a Greek. We're everywhere. And Greek Americans are guaranteed to love a book on Greek Americans. Why? I don't know. We just do.

And just think... if give it to that Greek who runs that diner you like, you might get free baklava for life! Why? Because that's how we Greeks roll.

The killing of South Omaha Police Officer Edward Lowery

Excerpted from Greek Americans: Struggle and Success (3rd Edition):
On the outskirts of South Omaha, Nebraska, was a shantytown of perhaps 3,000 Greek laborers, a number swollen by unemployed railroad workers waiting out the winter. Anti-Greek feeling in South Omaha was already intense owing to the carousing and gambling of the Greeks and, possibly, because many of them were viewed as strikebreakers.

The precipitating incident occurred on February 19, 1909, when one immigrant, Irish-born Police Officer Ed Lowery, arrested fellow immigrant, the Greek-born John Masourides. Lowery was a family man with a labor background. He joined the police force after losing his job at a lard processing plant for refusing, in sympathy with striking workers, to cross a picket line. Thirty-six years old when he left a Peloponnesian village near Kalamata in 1906, Masourides was in many ways a typical Greek immigrant.

He was dark and of medium height, wore a mustache, could speak no English, but could read and write some Greek. He left behind a wife and four children and made his destination Sunrise, Wyoming, where he planned to join his brother Gust. In Wyoming, John worked as a miner for several months after his arrival. The brothers then decided to come to Omaha to start a grocery and confectionary. This they did in South Omaha.

Masourides was with seventeen-year-old Lillian Breese when Officer Lowery arrested him for vagrancy. Some claimed the policeman was drunk and enraged at seeing a Greek publicly walking with a “white” prostitute. Other accounts say Breese was an English teacher and Masourides her student. These two accounts, it should be noted, are not mutually exclusive. Regardless of Breese’s primary vocation, what isn’t in question is that Masourides shot and killed Officer Lowery on the way to the police station.

In court, Masourides said he was attempting to throw his pistol away to avoid being held for carrying a concealed weapon, and was forced to defend himself after the officer began firing. Other witnesses said Masourides fired first. After a failed attempt to lynch Masourides, a petition was circulated and published in two local newspapers:

The so-called quarters of the Greeks are infested by a vile bunch of filthy Greeks who have attacked our women, insulted pedestrians upon the street, openly maintained gambling dens and many other forms of viciousness.

More ominously it declared:

Therefore be it resolved:
That we, the undersigned citizens and taxpayers of the city, hereby believe that a mass meeting should be held on Sunday afternoon, February 21, 1909, at the city hall to take such steps and to adopt such measures as will effectually rid the city of the Greeks, and thereby remove the menacing conditions that threaten the very life and welfare of South Omaha.

During the meeting, the crowd was encouraged with anti-Greek speeches. One witness recounted hearing, “One drop of American blood is worth all the Greek blood in the world!”

Following the meeting, over the course of many hours, a mob rampaged through the Greek quarter, burning most of it to the ground. Some thirty-six Greek businesses were destroyed and all the Greeks—and many other immigrants who were mistaken for Greek—were driven by the mob from the city. Later, Mary Demos, the owner of Demos Brothers Confectionary, would testify that when she called the police station for help against the mob, the officer answering “laughed at [her] over the telephone.” Her shop was subsequently wrecked and looted by a group that Demos claimed included police officers.

Another newspaper, which was considered more moderate toward immigrants (and did not publish the anti-Greek petition), still managed to rationalize, if not justify, the rioters’ behavior:

The thing that sticks in the crow [sic] of the anti-Greek element is that they work cheap; live even more cheaply, in groups; are careless of many of the little details that Americans set much store by; once in a while are impudent, ignore the restrictions of American law that lay heavily on the true patriot—in short, do not mix, are not “good fellows” like the citizens we get from northern Europe, for instance.

The press coverage of the riots triggered copycat anti-Greek demonstrations, sometimes violent, in Kansas City, Kansas, and Dayton, Ohio. The irony of immigrant-on-immigrant xenophobia was not lost on at least one newspaper, the Shreveport Journal (Louisiana): “We note with interest that Mr. O’Shaughnessy of Omaha objects to the ‘Greeks taking America.’ As if the O’Shaughnessys and the O’Tooles and other Irish had not already grabbed it.”

One year later, Masourides was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. He was furloughed by the governor after five and one-half years, deported, and emigrated, perhaps to Egypt.

The South Omaha riot was given wide coverage in the Greek American press and in Greece. The Greek government lost no time in protesting the acquiescence of the local authorities to the brutality of the mob. The Greek government, along with the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, lodged a formal demand for compensation. In 1918 the US Congress did indemnify the Greeks, but for just $40,000 (equivalent in 2012 to $618,000) and not the $288,000 claimed.

November 19, 2013

NYPD Aims Better in 2012

It's being reported that fatal NYPD police-involved shootings were way up in 2012. They are, but it's a non-story. Indeed, fatal police-involved shootings increased from 9 to 16, but better aim and luck were probably the reasons why. Police-involved shootings were only up by 2, to 30. (And this even though the average distance from which officers shot was further away in 2012.)

The real story (though you should always be leery basing a story on what might be a statistical one-year fluke) is that the number of NYPD officers shot went up from 4 in 2011 to 13 in 2012. Luckily none of those 13 was killed. 13 officers shot is the most since 1998. In 1997 27 officer were shot, 4 fatally.

30 police-involved shootings is an incredible low number for a city as big as New York. It is also part of a long-tern downward trend (that correlates, not surprisingly, with the crime rate). In 1990 there 111 police-involved shootings. Going back even further, in 1972 there were 211 people shot by cops!

To put this in comparison, Baltimore, with a fraction of New York's population and about 3,000 officers, had 22 police-involved shootings in 2009 (the last year I have numbers for).

Here's the NYPD report.

Houston police, with 5,300 officers has shot an average of 24 people a year (10 of them fatally) for the past five years. Many were unarmed.

“You can’t stop me! You can’t do that no more! There are new rules!” says gun-toting idiot

The Post reports (and some cops confirm) that word on the street is that cops can't stop anybody anymore. Of course that's not true. But it still make for some chilling anecdotes.
"You can’t be stopping me, yo! The cops can’t be harassing us!"

He was still frisked.
And yet there is still no apparent increase in violence.

[thanks to J.S.]

November 18, 2013

Crime is up no wait down: NCVS

There are two main clearinghouses for crime stats in this country, the UCR (The Uniform Crime Report) and the NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey). The former is collected from police departments and thus only includes reported crime as recorded by the police. The latter is conducted by surveys and sampling and asks people (160,000 per year) if they were a victim of crime. They both can be useful in different situations, though I'm much more partial to the UCR.

Now here's the thing: The UCR says violent crime in 2012 is down 3% compared to 2010.

The NCVS says violent crime is up 39% in the past two years.

They can't both be right.

And I seriously suspect the NCVS is wrong.


I believe in 2015 the NCVS surveyed but a *total* of 260 black male crime victims. For a national sample. (From 20,837 "black only" sampled.) Just 100 black male victims 35 or under? That seems problematic. Weighting is about 2,700 per individual.

Also, blacks are 11% of respondents, undercounts population approx 17%. (whites are overcounted at +5%) And there's no reason to assume non-respondents/missing data are random. I would assume non-respondents have higher rates of being victims. 

November 15, 2013

Five charts Ray Kelly Doesn't want you to see!

(Can you guess I was just on buzzfeed? A better headline would be "Murders way down in NYC. And so are stop and frisks. And nobody seems to care." But what kind of clickbaite would that be?)

1) Breakdown of NYC stops by race.

Indeed, as often reported, 83% of stops have happened to black and hispanic people.

2) Breakdown of NYC homicide victims by race.

But ninety-one percent of homicide victims were black or hispanic. Wow. Actually, this is the chart Ray Kelly wants you to see. Critics of stop and frisk generally don't like talking about this issue (as if the racial disparity in violent crime will just go away if we ignore it). But it is relevant. It may not excuse the racial bias of stop and frisk, but it goes a long to explaining it. Cops are where the violent crime is. Cops stop people where cops are assigned. Ergo cops stop black and hispanics disproportionately. "Racism without racists," it's sometimes called. It's not that individual cops are racists in their day-to-day work, but the end result of a stop-and-frisk policy can still racist.

3) Hit rate for stops of black people.

(this and then next figure are taken from Mother Jones and the data from the Center for Constitutional Rights)

One in 143 stops of blacks yields guns, drugs, or other contraband. Compare this to the rate for whites who are stopped.

4) Hit rate for tops of white people.

One in 27 stops of white people yields guns, drugs, or other contraband. Same yield with 19 percent of the stops.


One way to interpret these data is that white people must be 5.4 times as likely as blacks to be packing heat or drugs! Of course that's unlikely. So why is contraband 5.4 times as likely to be found on white people? Because white people are more likely to be stopped based on actual suspicion (there is much less pressure to produce stats in low-crime neighborhoods). Black people are being stopped because Compstat and "productivity" pressure in high-crime neighborhoods mean some officers stop people simply because the feel they need to stop people to fill out the UF-250s (the stop, questions, and frisk form).

So how about this for a goal: get the "hit rate" for blacks up to the same level for whites. Not only would this be fair, it would be good policing. It would also go a long way to mitigating the problem of excessive stop and frisks. And it's not hard to do. Make smart stops, not more stops.

5) Stops and homicides are both down!

For years Bloomberg and Kelly were basically saying that every one of the five, six, and seven-hundred-thousand stops was necessary to keep the city from exploding in crime. An inevitable part of the crime drop in New York City.

And yet stops have plummeting in the past two years (2013 figures are estimated year-end totals based on latest available data). In part this is from pressure from the top and in more recent part instructions from the PBA.

And homicide? Must be way up, right? Because Bloomberg and Kelly have insisted we need all these stops to keep homicide down. And yet we're on track from just over 300 homicides for the year in NYC. (Again, estimated year end total).

What did I just say New York City is on track to have just 318 homicides this year?! That's amazing. Why is this not front-page news? This 22 percent reduction is not from a crack-fueled high of the late 1980s but from the record low year of 2012! The 2013 homicide numbers are an amazing accomplished. (I mean Baltimore City used to top 300 homicides with just 650,000 residents.)

Homicides in New York City are down 22 percent this year and nobody seems to want to take credit! Attackers of stop and frisk never like to highlight any evidence that might be used to imply stop and frisks are effective. But defenders of stop and frisk can't reconcile a huge crime drop that correlates with an even larger decline in stop and frisks. In two years stops have been cut in half and homicides are down by one-third. (Of course there might be a delayed link between the end of stop and frisk and a rise in crime, but I think the past year or two should be enough time to see such a lag effect).

So for crying out loud, give the NYPD some credit! Just last year academics, once again, were saying crime had bottomed out; crime won't go down; crime can't go down any more. And yet, once again, it did. This was not inevitable. This is not irreversible. But as Bill Bratton likes to say, "Cops count and police matter."

So give the NYPD credit for a record low number of murders, but remind them that this amazing reduction in homicide has happened without unnecessarily stopping and bothering another 350,000 innocent black and hispanic New Yorkers this year. That matters.

We now know that all these stops were not needed. Throw out that bathwater! But be careful, because there is baby somewhere in that murky water. Surely some of these stop are needed. You know, the stops based on officers' reasonable and honest suspicion.

The crime reduction can continue at the same time unnecessary stop and frisks and ended. One goal should be to raise the hit rate for blacks stopped to the same level as found for whites who are stopped. This alone could reduce the total number of stops (and misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests) more than 80% from the 2011 high. The good news is we're already half way there.

November 14, 2013

Defending Flogging Down Under

Waste an hour watching my dangerous idea at the Sydney Opera House's 2013 Festival of Dangerous Ideas:

There's also me on a panel "Getting Soft on Crime":

You can watch all the Dangerous Ideas here. What an amazing weekend and amazingly well run festival! Thanks to everybody at FODI.

November 9, 2013

Father calls cops who shoot son

The chase was well called out by the pursuing officer, I have to say. The shooting, in my humble opinion, justified. It's too bad police had to down two police cars because of this idiot.

Should the police have chased? No. They rarely should. And particularly not when you know the identity of the suspect and where he lives! (And it's odd to me as a former police officer that the the pursuing officer is never ordered to call the chase off. Instead the suggestion of calling off the chase is offered a few times. I know -- right or wrong -- that I would not have followed that "suggestion." Why? Because as a cop I want to catch the crook. And as a guy, car chases are fun.) What do you want to bet that police in Ames, Iowa will make a more restrictive pursuit policy very soon?

But the moral? I think it's rather simple: don't call police to teach your child a lesson. Seriously. That's not what police are for. Why, because your child might be a fool and end up getting shot. (Also, it wastes police time). [Update: to paraphrase a comment below: "You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes."]

From Salon: “He took off with my truck. I call the police, and they kill him,” James Comstock told The Des Moines Register. “It was over a damn pack of cigarettes. I wouldn’t buy him none.”

You wouldn't buy your son a pack of cigarettes and he got pissed off and so you called the police to report a stolen vehicle?!

The second link here gives you the full audio.

Right Wing Lies (IX)

Turns out Obama was a cross-dressing teenager who turned gay tricks for coke! This one must be true. Why? Because I read it on the interwebs!

Man, I wasted far too much time today responding to comments from people who still comment about what a shame it is that the government provided "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to a murdered two-bit drug-dealing father-of-many married-to-none black man, Larmondo "Flair" Allen. This single post got 4,000 hits yesterday (and all from google searches, which is the tough way to find something. Usually massive spikes are due to some prominent site posting a link). That's about 3,500 more than an average day.

The problem, of course, is it's not true. I mean the looser "Flair" existed, but he wasn't living large sucking the government's tit.

Call me crazy, but if people believe an email that says some loser with nine kids gets $13,500 per month in free government cash (the real figure is closer to $550), how much of a lie does something have to be before idiots might reconsider something that goes against their world view?

And how many people need to believe a lie before these people dictate social policy based on that lie?

[For a more a real conception of who receives welfare, read this.]

In many comments (and tens of thousands of page views) regarding "Flair," not one person -- not one -- said, "Gosh, I guess since my facts were wrong, I've got to reconsider what I believe." Not one. Turns out for some, the facts don't matter. As a professor who enjoys a good political debate, I find that very frustrating.

To hate something based on truth is one thing. But to hate based on lies? It's the foundation of fascism.

October 31, 2013

Shira Scheindlin Stop & Frisk Smackdown

I'm in beautiful Sydney. Spring is in the air and the birds make funny sounds just to remind me that I'm on the other side of the planet. Despite my focus on the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, I couldn't help but notice that everything Judge Scheindlin decided regarding stop and frisk has been put on hold! The New York Times reports:
A federal appeals court on Thursday halted a sweeping set of changes to the New York Police Department’s policy of stopping and frisking people on the street, and, in strikingly personal terms, criticized the trial judge’s conduct in the litigation and removed her from the case.
“In taking these actions, we intimate no view on the substance or merits of the pending appeals,” the two-page order stated.
In its ruling, the panel ... criticiz[ed] the judge for improperly applying a “related-case rule” to bring the stop-and-frisk case under her purview.  
This is a fair smackdown of the judge. For a judge with a strong opinion on a case to make sure she gets a case so that her decision becomes law of the land makes a mockery of the concept of an independent judiciary. I mean, we all knew how she was going to rule.

In an age of political cynicism, I'm actually thrilled to see that such shenanigans are not the way the system is supposed to work. And the system self corrected. (though it seems like this should have been decided before she heard the whole case.)

I might be the only person in the world who agrees with this reprimand and (most of) her original decision. (And I still hope the cameras on cops pilot program proceeds.)

Terry v. Ohio. Happy 50th Anniverary, Detective McFadden!

Fifty years ago today on the streets of downtown Cleveland, Detective Martin McFadden, plain-clothed and without a walkie-talkie (two-way radios didn't become standard for another decade) stopped and arrested John Terry and two other guys after observing them casing a storefront for United Airlines.

This arrest lead to the landmark 1968 Supreme Court Case of Terry v. Ohio (the two poor other guys unremembered). In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court made perhaps the most pro-police decision of the 20th century.

I love the the original police report filed by Detective McFadden. Sure, the report is filled with typos and corrections (and "colored" was just the polite term back then), but it's a great police report. Who would have imagined that not only would we remember it fifty years later, but that it would be taught in college courses?

Detective McFadden wrote perhaps the best arrest report/statement of probable cause I've ever read. He doesn't just say he was suspicious of these two guys. He explains, in great and explicit detail -- ie: he articulates the totality of the circumstances -- just what made him suspicious. He builds a scene of three men about to rob a business. McFadden paints a picture.

Why, after reading this report, how could one not be suspicious of the actions of these three gentleman?

Then, and without backup or a radio, Detective McFadden pushes these guys against a wall, pats them down, and finds two illegal guns. Finally, the good officer gets somebody in the store to call police.

Talk about "real police"!

But here's the problem: Detective McFadden did not have "probable cause" to think these guys were armed. And how can you search somebody without probable cause? The Fourth Amendment is pretty clear about this matter. But it certain makes sense, as a police officer stopping these guys, to fear that they might be armed and to check and make sure they're not, or disarm them if they are. But the case went to court, asking if the gun seizure was constitutional and legal even without probable cause or a warrant?

The Court said yes.

In doing so, the Supreme Court invented the concept of "reasonable suspicion" in which an officer may pat down the outer clothing of a suspect for weapons in order to ensure the officer's safety. It's hard -- actually impossible -- to imagine policing without Terry v. Ohio.

The Court concluded, in affirming a lower court's decision:
Purely for his own protection, the court held, the officer had the right to pat down the outer clothing of these men, who he had reasonable cause to believe might be armed. The court distinguished between an investigatory 'stop' and an arrest, and between a 'frisk' of the outer clothing for weapons and a full-blown search for evidence of crime. The frisk, it held, was essential to the proper performance of the officer's investigatory duties, for without it 'the answer to the police officer may be a bullet, and a loaded pistol discovered during the frisk is admissible.'
And yet it's important to remember the words of the lone dissenting judge, Justice Douglas, in this eight-to-one affirmation:
The opinion of the Court disclaims the existence of 'probable cause.' If loitering were in issue and that was the offense charged, there would be 'probable cause' shown. But the crime here is carrying concealed weapons; and there is no basis for concluding that the officer had 'probable cause' for believing that that crime was being committed. Had a warrant been sought, a magistrate would, therefore, have been unauthorized to issue one, for he can act only if there is a showing of 'probable cause.' We hold today that the police have greater authority to make a 'seizure' and conduct a 'search' than a judge has to authorize such action. We have said precisely the opposite over and over again.
To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment....

There have been powerful hydraulic pressures throughout our history that bear heavily on the Court to water down constitutional guarantees and give the police the upper hand. That hydraulic pressure has probably never been greater than it is today.

Yet if the individual is no longer to be sovereign, if the police can pick him up whenever they do not like the cut of his jib [his style], if they can 'seize' and 'search' him in their discretion, we enter a new regime. The decision to enter it should be made only after a full debate by the people of this country.
Happy 50th Anniversary!

October 25, 2013

Waltzing Matilda

Should you just happen to be in Sydney next week, wonder over to the Opera House and check out the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. I'll be there, spreading dangerous thoughts about flogging and the war on drugs.

Did I mention they're flying me over there all fancy? Like in business class? Classy, those Aussies are!

It should be a blast.

October 19, 2013

And no thanks to the PBA

The PBA is the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. One of the two police unions (I was FOP, which for some reason I still think is slightly better in actually caring about public safety).

A representative of the PBA recently came to roll calls in New York City and told police officers to stop stopping anybody. If crime does go up, don't expect the union to hold itself accountable.

October 17, 2013

The Intellegence of the NYPD's Demographics Unit

I am a day late and a dollar short on this, because these AP reports on the NYPD Intelligence Division "Demographics Unit" came out in 2011 and 2012 (mostly when I was out of the country). The reports are from 2006, but only now am I fully appreciating them. Here's New York Magazine's more recent take on the whole operation. Of course the NYPD has a long tradition of mapping "seditious ethnic groups," so it's not exactly earth-shattering news. (Less traditional is spying on student organization at my school.)

The NYPD went out and collected (very basic) information on groups of Muslim immigrants. Here are the reports on those from Egypt, Syria, and Albania. Some, myself included, might say that the NYPD should know where different groups hang out. Indeed, at a very basic level this should be considered very basic police knowledge. Too bad they get it wrong.

Any actual beat officer would know this information. Just as people who live in the neighborhood do. But apparently the NYPD lacks day-to-day knowledge of the communities they serve and protect, so they have to rely on undercover officers to "rake" the community. This is wrong. As is much of the information the NYPD gathered.

I could have told the NYPD information about the locations in my neighborhood (including a place near me they missed because it's a few blocks away from where "they" usually hang out).

The report expressly says it excluded Egyptian Christians from surveillance. So it's explicitly a religious witch hunt, but the dumb "intel" officers include a lot of Christian places by mistake. Apparently the "rakers" who are supposed to keep us safe from Muslim extremists can't tell the difference between Christians and Muslims. They all look Arab, I suppose.

And the facts about the country in question are so mindlessly copied from the web that we get to read about the "richness of the annual Nile river flood." I'm surprised there wasn't clip art of the pyramids.

Naturally the first place I looked up was the place I know best: Kabab Cafe. The owner, Ali, is a friend of mine.

I can tell you a lot about Kabab Cafe, but I'm not a trained and active "intel" officer. So what did the NYPD's Demographics Unit come up with? For starters, they misspelled the name of the restaurant. It's Kabab with two A's. And they got the address wrong. It's located at 25-12 Steinway. Good work, guys. Maybe next time check out a Zagat Guide.

The "ethnic groups" that might be found at said location of interest? "Egyptian, Palestinians, Syrians, Moroccans, and Lebanese." That's also wrong. Ali does draw a diverse crowd, but his place is not an Arab hangout. Truth be told, at $30 to $50 per person, this place is kind of pricey for Queens. If I had to categorize, I'd say those who dine at Kabab Cafe are predominantly "hipsters" and "Jews."

And the "local flyers and community events posted inside"? No. Not there. Unless you think that's what the anti-Mubarak poster is.

The NYPD lists my friend as an "Egyptian male." That's arguably correct, even though he's non-religious and has been an American citizen longer than I've been alive.

It's amazing that so much incorrect information can be packed into just 35 words of "intel"!

But that's not all. The business is listed as a "take-out restaurant," which happens to be wrong. If you ask politely Ali will do take-out, but it's not really his gig.

You'd learn a lot more reading about his restaurant in the New York Times or New York Magazine. Or perhaps you saw Ali on TV, as he was featured in Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern's TV show . He also starred in an episode of Jammie Oliver's American Road Trip (an episode that also features my wife, just braggin').

Across Steinway Street is another place, listed as "Egyptian Cafe." My wife tells me that's not the name of the place, which is clearly written in Arabic. But my wife reads Arabic, which apparently the "rakers" didn't (though maybe they did, in which case they're just really really stupid). Also, this Queens location is listed as being in Brooklyn.

Why is Kabab Cafe a "location of interest"? Naturally, "detectives gravitated toward the best food." I would. New York reported:
It nagged [Lieutenant] Berdecia to see his talented detectives sitting around eating kebabs and buying pastries, hoping to stumble onto something. If it was worth writing up a report, it was worth conducting an investigation. “It irritated me to send a lot of second-grade detectives and first-grade detectives to sit in coffee shops with nothing going on. If we hear something, then let’s do more proactive police work. Let’s run plates. Let’s follow guys.” But as the years passed under Berdecia’s supervision, the Demographics Unit never built a single case. “It was a bunch of bullshit,” Berdecia said.
Now of course my friend isn't a terrorist, and he's got nothing to hide. So no harm done, right? Except the information gathered by the NYPD is completely and comically wrong. And that is potentially harmful.

So I don't know what bothers me more, that the NYPD spies on people solely on their perceived religion and nothing else, or that the NYPD has done so with such complete and total incompetence. I mean, how can I focus on the morality and constitutionality of the Demographics Unit if they can't even spell the names right and write down the correct address?!

But short of some fact checking (have they heard of google?), this police work should not be done undercover. No police work should be done undercover unless it has to be. Not only does does a uniform or badge make the difference between honest police work and a secret state security apparatus, but undercover officers are less effective. If you want basic information, you need a beat cop (or a resident) who has an eye, an ear, and half a brain.

But how, you might say, would police discover terrorist plots while walking the beat in uniform? Good question. First, good people might actually talk to police, if only they saw police to talk to. This is how the NYPD foiled the 1997 subway bombing that wasn't. People snitch. This is how most big arrests are made. And it's a bit harder to feel the love if you're being spied on, which is what you call secret police work based on no actual suspicion of criminal wrong doing.

Second, the secret Demographic Unit didn't uncover any plots. The latter point is important -- perhaps not a moral and constitutional level -- but certainly an operational and police level.

The only actual "intel" from this report seems to be which of these places believed to be run by or cater to Muslims watch Arabic-language Al-Jezeera news on TV. Well, I hate to break it to you Fox News believers, but Al-Jezeera is an actual news channel. And truth be told, it's a pretty good one.

Just because Al-Jezeera has an Arabic name does not mean it is a terrorist organization. That might be the real take-home lesson.

Baby Hope

Good work by the NYPD:
October 14th, 2013


On July 23rd, 1991, twenty-two years ago, the body of a four-year-old girl was found in a cooler off the Henry Hudson Parkway. She had been starved and sexually assaulted. Despite a citywide appeal, the 34th Precinct Detective Squad was unable to locate her relatives. All leads were soon exhausted without even learning her name. Using their own funds, the squad bought her a burial plot and a headstone. On the day she was buried, they Christened her Baby Hope.

As life in a city of eight million people went on, the men and women responsible for Baby Hope’s memory never forgot about her. At the time, Assistant Chief Joseph Reznick was the 34th Precinct Detective Squad commander. No matter where his career took him, he would return to Baby Hope’s grave each year to collect evidence from the flowers and memorials left there. Each year, investigators would canvass neighborhoods in an attempt to locate witnesses or her relatives. In 2006, her body was exhumed to profile her DNA. Whenever he spoke to new detectives and executives, the chief would remind them that so long as Baby Hope’s case was unsolved, we could not consider our work done. The effort spanned careers and lifetimes.

On Saturday, October 12th, 2013, a man was arrested for the murder of Baby Hope. The case broke when a CrimeStoppers tip led to a witness who wanted to share what she knew after years of silence. What followed was the culmination a careful and thorough investigation, the type that our detectives are known for. It pointed towards one person: Baby Hope’s cousin. The suspect, 51, was apprehended at his job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Greenwich Village. He went on to make statements to detectives implicating himself in the murder.

Please take a moment to reflect on what Baby Hope’s case signifies. The promise to deliver justice to New Yorkers is only as good as the men and the women who keep it. As long as our leaders are relentlessness, our detectives have patience and compassion, and the Department perseveres with even its oldest cases, there can be hope for justice. NYPD detectives have once again lived up to their reputation as being “The Greatest Detectives in the World.” Twenty-two years later, a man will be held to account for the rape and murder of one of our city’s youngest and most helpless victims, a child abandoned by her own family. Her name, we have learned, was Anjelica Castillo.

October 5, 2013

Can you say "Contagion Shooting"?

They then opened fire. The authorities would not estimate how many rounds were discharged. Mr. Gainer, the sergeant-at-arms, said he believed that five to seven officers had fired.

Possible Clues in Fatal Chase, but No Motive -- Miriam Carey Was in Car When Police Fired, Official Says

Union Effin' Power!

Do Carnegie Hall stage hands really make $400,000 a year? I first thought this was some urban right-wing anti-labor myth (I was all ready to file this under "right-wing lies").

But actually, well, they do. (Or at least close to it.) Holy sh*t!

Susan Adams of Forbes wrote this great piece explaining the why.

In short, why do they make so much money? For the same reason dogs lick their... boo-yah: Because they can!

Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director pulled in $1,113,571. Why not complain about that?

These aren't government employees. You don't pay their salary (unless you're a patron of Carnegie Hall). So just what makes you so upset? These are skilled private workers. And, unlike some manual labor, actually, no, you cannot do their job.

Think of it this way: why is it OK for baseball players and executives to make as much as they can... but as soon as people who actually work and sweat for a living make as much as they can, people start bitching.

John Hammergren. Ever heard of him? Me neither. But he was paid $131 million last year. His net income was more than $1 billion! What the f*ck?! Michael Fascitelli? Doesn't ring a bell. And he lost his shareholders money last year while being "compensated" $64 million (his net income? $830 million). George Paz? Maybe him I should know him. Because he's the CEO of Express Scripts. That's the annoying company that makes me mail-order my asthma medicine and charges me too much for the inconvenience. This is the kind of medicine, like most medicine, that is cheaper when I buy it without "insurance" while traveling in foreign countries. Mr. Paz also lost money for his shareholders last year. Meanwhile his "compensation" was $51.5 million (with a net income of $1.29 billion). About $1,000 of that is mine, motherf*cker!

So more power to the Local One for making buko dough! Don't be a hater just because you're jealous. Just tax the high-earning SOBs! And if you want to make more money for your work (and who doesn't?), perhaps you should start supporting rather than breaking your local unions.

And, just for the record, the stage hands were not striking over money. They were striking to defend the strength of the union that has given them so much power. And, in my humble opinion, the settlement seems fair.

September 20, 2013

Celebrating six years as a blockhead!

Like fellow "blockhead" Jay Livingston, I can't believe I've been doing this "writing for free" crap since 2007. Like Jay, I decided to look back at my more popular posts. Unlike Jay, blogger/google doesn't allow one to look at the past year. The choices jump from "last month" to "all time." So let's look at my five most popular posts of all time.

Starting with number 5, with 4,629 page views, a 2008 post in which I cast a critical gaze at St. Louis. St. Louis: Coulda Been a Contender. I've found that any time you say something bad about a place people call home (whether it's St. Louis or Newburgh, NY), some people kinda get upset. Who would've thunk it? (Luckily, Baltimoreans have thick skin.)

With 4,766 page views, coming it at number 4, is Sneak-and-Peek from 2011. I observed that parts of The Patriot Act are used not to fight terrorism but the War on Drugs. I have no idea why this simple repost from New York Magazine got so many views. I can only guess it comes up high on some google search. Or maybe all the views are from the NSA.

Number 3, with 8,231 views, is a funny picture montage What they think I do. This must have gotten shared on some police sites.

Number 2, with 9,499 views, features my pictures and Memories of a Baltimore Crack House. The Atlantic linked to this. The Atlantic has always supported me and my work. Somebody there must like me. I don't know who that person is, but thank you!

Coming in at Number 1, my most popular post of all time (by a wide 3:1 margin with 27,623 page views), is the Right-Wing Lies of the "welfare" of Larmondo "Flair" Allen. I'm proud to play a small role in the liberal quest for truth. Apparently some 27,000 folks also received a B.S. right-wing email and had the bright idea to actually see if it true. It's not.

September 2, 2013

Two more prohibition deaths

These two didn't die from MDMA. They died from whatever they took that wasn't MDMA. Why? Because of prohibition.

To blame drugs rather than prohibition is exactly the same as when, during Prohibition, "alcohol" caused blindness, death, and (my own favorite) Jake Leg. These are prohibition problems. Of course during Prohibition, prohibitionists blamed the prohibited drug rather than their policy of prohibition. They still do.

If you're not ready to end drug prohibition, how about testing booths? Testing booths would have saved these two lives. Clubs in Europe have them. But no, not here. You'd get arrested. Why? Because we want our drug users to buy from criminals and die. I mean, seriously, we don't have a system that prevents recreational drug users from dying because prohibitionists, perhaps yourself included, say: "it sends the wrong message!" Because preventable death is such a good message. For shame.

Every weekend, throughout the world, countless hundreds of thousands of people take recreational drugs, have a good time, and live to tell about it. The fact that anybody dies from taking what they think is ecstasy is as absurd (and real) as partial permanent paralysis from a shot of booze.

August 28, 2013

This is a big deal

This is far more radical than anything Judge Scheindlin ruled in her well publicized stop and frisk decision.
In a 3-2 decision (People v. Johnson is not long and worth reading in its entirety) the court managed to rule the following unconstitutional:
In a New York City Housing Authority building, which the testifying officer characterized as a "drug-prone" location, the officer observed defendant descending the stairs to the lobby. Upon seeing the police, defendant "froze," "jerked back," and appeared "as if he was going to go back up the stairs," although he never retreated up the stairs. The officer asked defendant to come downstairs, and defendant complied. The officer inquired whether defendant lived in the building, and defendant replied in the affirmative, whereupon the officer asked defendant to produce identification. Defendant immediately clarified that he was visiting his girlfriend, who lived in the building, and informed the officer that his identification was located in his pocket. As defendant moved his hands to retrieve it, the officer's partner grabbed defendant's left arm and pulled his hand behind his back, revealing a handgun inside defendant's coat pocket. The officer seized the gun and placed defendant under arrest.
Seems like good policing to me. This is from the dissent:
Defendant initially told the officers that he lived there. However, when asked for identification, he began to stutter, and changed his story to say that he was visiting his girlfriend. Although defendant stated that he had his identification in his pocket, he began moving his hands "all over the place, especially around his chest area," which the officers interpreted to be threatening and indicative of possession of a weapon. To "take control of the situation" before it could "get out of hand," an officer grabbed defendant's left arm and brought it behind defendant's back, which caused defendant's open jacket to open up further and reveal a silver pistol in the netted interior coat pocket. One officer removed the pistol from the pocket, and another handcuffed defendant.
You can also read the New York Times article.

What are police officers now allowed to do? Where exactly in this arrest did police overstep their bounds? I don't get it. The court said it had a problem not with subsequent stop and frisk, but with the initial questioning!? I cannot fathom (maybe somebody can explain to me) why this isn't covered under what is known as the "common-law right of inquiry." See, for instance, People v. Moore, which limited but defined that right.

I don't see how to downplay this decision and say it's no big deal (which is my usual reaction). If you were trying to get police to stop policing, telling officers they don't have the right to question suspicious (and, in the end, armed) suspects seems like the ideal way to do so.

August 27, 2013

IRB: The Censorship You've Never Heard Of

Unless you're an academic, of course. From Commentary and worth reading in its entirely (if you care about this sort of thing):
Since the 1970s, the government has overseen the establishment of bodies called Institutional Review Boards, and these “IRBs” have suppressed vast amounts of talking, printing, and publishing—even mere reading and analyzing—for hundreds of thousands of Americans. This is utterly unconstitutional, and in stifling research and its publication, it has proved deadly.

[thanks to the Institutional Review Blog]

August 26, 2013

"Police work is a thinking person's game"

It's worth highlighting this excellent comment to a previous post, from a anonymous police officer. You can file this under "if you don't work, you can't get in trouble."
What I've learned over my career, and what has frustrated me as a life-long progressively inclined citizen, is that despite all common sense and evidence to the contrary, well-meaning liberal types are stubbornly attached to this outdated narrative of white officers maliciously and illegally harassing innocent black men "doing nothing." As you just articulated, police work is a thinking person's game. Unfortunately the critics are often so blinded by ideology that to educate themselves on very basic police procedures which may illustrate, like you stated, that for professionals it's not all about race.

The real harm from this refusal to engage maturely with the subject matter is the effect this political pressure has on departments, and by extension the most vulnerable communities. I see officers putting blinders on and avoiding perfectly justified stops (not even grey area sophisticated, I'm talking straight probably cause) for fear of allegations of racism. It's more trouble to deal with the subsequent complaints that now accompanies meaningful proactive police work than to do the bare minimum. And of course, the crime rate sky rockets because the suspects are emboldened by de-policing and ideological cover. So once again, it's folks in the poor and predominately black neighborhoods, where the well-meaning liberal types don't have to live, that suffer.
It's too easy to be for "police accountability," whatever that means. Good intentions aren't enough. Hell, even I'm for police accountability at some very large level. But any "accountability" needs to result in better, not worse, policing. That may sound obvious, but it's not.

I'm curious to see how things are going to work out in NYC with potentially two new levels of "accountability" that will just happen to coincide with a new mayor and new police chief who will have to reap what Bloomberg and Kelly sowed. It is not inevitable that crime will go up! But next year the NYPD will have to choose to do right and continue to improve and police (and stop stops for stops' sake!) or curl-up into a ball and disengage.

If you create a system where an officer can get banged or sued for doing his or her job, don't be surprised when officers say, "I want to get promoted. I want to keep my pension. I'm not getting out of this car unless someone calls 911." Individual actors still act rationally in irrational systems. So-called accountability can all too easily lead to bureaucratic paralysis (for exactly how, see "the Anticorruption Project and the Pathologies of Bureaucracy" in Chapters 10 and 11 of Anechiarico and Jacobs's The Pursuit of Absolute Integrity.)

August 23, 2013

Since money grows on trees, why not?

New York City paid $167,731 for each prisoner last year. That's insane. Crazy high. And much higher than even the highest estimates I had heard. The New York Times reports "83 percent of the cost per prisoner came from wages, benefits for staff and pension costs." That means it's not going down anytime soon. Rikers Island is overstaffed (despite what Norman Seabrook says).

New York State averages $60,000 per prisoner. The national average cost is estimated to be over $31,000 per inmate.

August 22, 2013

"Council Overrules Bloomberg on Police Monitor and Profiling Suits"

So reports the Times. I would not have voted for this because it's perceived as anti-police, but once again, I say that Ray Kelly get what they had coming. You do work for the city, and you've shown nothing but scorn for those who try and make the NYPD better. The chickens coming home to roost and all that.

If the NYPD weren't so goddamned tone-def and oblivious -- not just oblivious but actively hostile to any constructive criticism and to the non-criminal residents (and academic researchers) of they city they work for -- this never would have happened.

For instance, quotas are illegal. They have been and continue to be. So the police brass invented the term "productivity goals" to hide a quota by any other name. But the rank-and-file officers aren't dumb. They know a quota when they get f*cked by one. Instead of being semantically clever the NYPD could have simply stopped using UF-250s as signs of "productivity."

I do hope this doesn't mark the turning point to the rise in crime. The shame is that if crime does go up, those who debated this law won't look changes in police practice but rather focus on all so-called "root causes" that have less to do with crime than any sociologists wants to admit.

If police stop policing, it would be horrible. And Ray Kelly will be out, so he won't be around to take the blame for the consequences of his actions. There's nothing in this law that lessons effective policing. It wasn't easy to get more police to start being real police in the 1990s. I suspect it will be much easier to get cops to stop working next year.

Of course crime doesn't have to go up. It's not inevitable. Stops can go down and crime can stay down. It happened last year (the NYPD gets kind of schizo explaining this seeming contradiction) because the stops that weren't made last year were probably not the ones based on honest police-honed suspicion.

If the NYPD weren't so damned closed to the city around them -- if the NYPD had simply stopped making so many stops and marijuana arrests before the shit hit the fan -- this never would happened. The NYPD can blame liberals in the city council. But really, they had it coming.

Sorry about the shooting, Brian, but it's not profiling if it's the totality of the circumstances

A few posts ago I linked to nice article by Brian Beutler. He explains very well how he didn't succumb to the "ecological fallacy" (of assuming what is true for the individual is true for the group, or vice versa) even after being held up and shot. I particularly like the line, "Everyone who’s ever shot me was black and wearing a hoodie. There just aren’t any reasonable inferences to draw from that fact."

But I've since heard Beutler on the radio (On Point with Tom Ashbrook, but I can't find the link to the segment). What I heard makes me think Beutler doesn't understand policing. And to say (I'm paraphrasing here) "I've been shot by two blacks guy and still don't think police should have stopped my shooters" is like a left-wing equivalent to the right-wing mindlessness of wrapping yourself in the flag and saying "September 11th!" whenever somebody considers that it may not be right for the US to kill or capture and imprison and/or torture some innocent person.

Beutler said that these two guys, the ones who shot him, were doing nothing that he and his friend weren't doing that night. So police had no reason to stop them. And if they had, it would have been racial profiling. But of course the two criminals were doing something that Beutler and his friend were not doing. The two black guys wearing hoodies were carrying a loaded gun and looking for people to mug. This intention matters because, as any street cop can tell you, it changes your behavior.

Cops are trained and have experience noticing things. I'm not talking about some vague "leave crime to the professionals" bullshit. I'm talking about concrete behavior that would give observant police officers reasonable suspicion to suspect and stop these thugs before Beutler got shot. That really is what we train and pay police to do.

Beutler, I assume, was going from point A to B. The criminals may have walking around the block, or back and forth on one block. The cops might have known of previous armed robberies in the area the past few days and been looking for two young black men who actually did match the description... or were the actually criminals pictures in a previous robbery.

A cop could have noticed the walking that is characteristic of a man carrying a gun in his pants: a sheltering hand, a favoring gait, a possessive pat, or a heavy weight in the pocket. A good police officer would also notice that the two criminals were very alert to their surroundings, their heads jerking in all directions while they walked with a practiced nonchalance that doesn't coincide with said hyper-vigilance. Or maybe the cop just know these two from a previous arrest.

Now none of these reasons alone may give police reason to stop a person (though a few of them would). But my point is a good cop could see many suspicious aspects of criminal behavior that a dumb-ass politically correct liberal would be oblivious to.

At some point the "totality of the circumstances" (Illinois v. Gates) allows a cop to build a case for the reasonable suspicion needed to make a legal stop. Had a good cop been there and done this, he could have preventing the the shooting of Beutler. The only thanks he may have received from Beutler was being called racist: "Why didn't you stop us, the white guys. I was doing the same thing they were."

But no, Brian, you weren't. And this is key: The criminals weren't (hypothetically) stopped because they were black. They were stopped because their behavior was suspicious in a way that would lead a reasonable police officer to suspect that they were about to mug somebody. Just because all you see is race may say more about you than it does about police.

August 19, 2013

We Got Another Kingpin! (12)

That's two in one month and it makes an even dozen.

"Eduardo Arellano Felix is to serve 15 years in jail, after pleading guilty to charges of money laundering," says the BBC. Though I don't know if this should really count since he's been in jail since 2008, and his nickname, "The Doctor," is kinda lame. But I'm still chalking him up because, well, he was a kingpin (or at least the accountant for one).

Check out the others.

Eduardo was the last of four brothers who ran the Mexican drug cartel known as the Arellano-Felix Organization. With all these kingpins gone, we can look back to the turning point in the drug war. Though today it's hard to conceive of how violent Mexico once was, back before we won the war on drugs.

Busting the Polygraph Busters

The feds are really going after people who tell how and why lie detector tests are flawed?! Does anybody know what the actual crime these people are being charged with?

I always tell my students that anybody who ever has to take a polygraph test buy and read Doug Williams's manual on why the test is flawed and how to pass it. I did. I passed. Best $20 you could possible spend (and cheaper than what I paid for it, I think).

Lie detectors are, and I can't say this too strongly, bullshit. That's why they're not admissible in court. That's why employers can't give them to you as a condition of employment (the government naturally exempted themselves). You don't take the test for the NYPD, but you do for the feds and Baltimore (at least in 1999).

The basic problem with the lie detector test is this -- brace yourself here: the lie detector test does not know if you are lying. How could it? And if you think about it, that's a pretty major flaw for a lie detector test. Results are based on a pseudo-science that may or may not be more reliable than phrenology.

Here's why it matters -- and pay attention -- you can easily tell the truth and fail a polygraph test (and vice versa). That's why you should never go into a lie detector test unprepared. If you're taking the test, you need to pass. You can't leave it to chance and the mindset of some idiot who makes a living administering a flawed test.

[There's one situation where a lie detector test is useful: if one person knows the specifics of a crime, those details could be used to indicate who was involved and who wasn't. But this isn't how the test is used as a condition for employment in law enforcement.]

This American Life did a nice segment on the polygraph back in 2005. Definitely worth listening to, if you care about such matters. It doesn't tell you how to pass the test (use Doug Williams for that), but This American Life does illustrate the absurdity of the the test and the pitfalls of failing!

Stop & Frisk: They Had It Coming

A (cop) friend in Baltimore asked me with regard to stop and frisk: "What the hell is going on?" I emailed back:
You know, leaving aside the decision was entirely predicable based on the judge not exactly being a friend of police, her decision is actually kind of mild. All she f*cking asks is for cops to stop making illegal stops. It's really not too much to ask for.

The idea that cops can stop and search (because we both know how frisks can turn into searches) somebody and not even have/be able to articulate reasonable suspicion is absurd (because we both know how easy it is to articulate reasonable suspicion). They have these stupid forms in NYC (called UF-250s) and all the officer has to do is check a box -- no writing required, because the forms were made to be idiot proof, which helps turn some cops into idiots -- saying "furtive gesture" or something. It is a little absurd.

A few months ago she instructed politely, and the police department ignored her. The NYPD got what they were asking for. They refuse to rational engage/debate even with people who don't hate cops. So now they get some smart-ass judge telling them what to do. Kelly had it coming.

I think the NYPD could reduce stop and frisks by 75% without any impact on crime -- because probably 75% are quota driven and not based on valid suspicion, but instead are based on the end of the work period, not having 5 UF-250s that month, and worried that the sgt will chew you a new asshole. So you stop the first young guy in baggy jeans that walks by (who happens to be black).

What worries me is what will happen if the cops stop doing that last 25%, the stop and frisks that are actually based on reasonable suspicion. Then shootings will go up.
I still haven't gotten my head around the federal monitor, however. And I'm kind of excited about the pilot camera program. I can't imagine it will work well, but if it does it should help police tremendously, despite what police fear. Ten years ago I was against cameras (I think), but technology has moved forward. Cameras are there whether cops like or not. So it's good to have a camera with a police POV.

[Update: this is worth reading, by John Timoney. On the plus side (though he presents it as a negative) look at all the overtime cops are likely to get!]

Related, there's an excellent piece in Salon by Brian Beutler, "What I learned from getting shot." Walking down the street in D.C., Beutler was held up by two black guys in hoodies and then shot three times. He was very lucky to live:
I didn’t buy a gun, though several well-wishers seemed to think that night would’ve ended better if I’d been armed and had initiated a saloon-style shootout in the middle of the street. Other well-wishers wondered — let’s not sugarcoat it — if the experience had turned me into a racist.

Those emails were easy to respond to.

[Kal] Penn got in trouble for touting the supposed merits of New York’s stop-and-frisk policy. To the objection that the policy disproportionately targets blacks and Latinos, he responded, “And who, sadly, commits & are victims of the most crimes?”

But that’s a non sequitur. A false rationale. Take people’s fear out of the equation and the logical artifice collapses. Canadians are highly overrepresented in the field of professional ice hockey, but it would be ridiculous for anyone to walk around Alberta presumptively asking strangers on the street for autographs. When you treat everyone as a suspect, you get a lot of false positives. That’s why above and beyond the obvious injustice of it, stop and frisk isn’t wise policy. Minorities might commit most of the crime in U.S. cities, and be the likeliest victims of it, and that’s a problem with a lot of causes that should be addressed in a lot of ways. But crime is pretty rare. Not rare like being a professional hockey player is rare. But rare. Most people, white or minority, don’t do it at all.
Everyone who’s ever shot me was black and wearing a hoodie. There just aren’t any reasonable inferences to draw from that fact.

And file this under Right Wing Lies (VIII). There's an ad in the Greek-American paper, the National Herald, for John Catsimatidis. He's a Republican running for mayor. The ad shouts: "DON'T BLINDFOLD OUR POLICE!" And there's even a picture of a ranking officer violating rules by mis-wearing a uniform for a political ad (those are two separate violations). The ad is about The Community Safety Act, a not very significant anti-profiling bill passed by the New York City Council. Catsimatidis says, and it's presented as a quote:
The Community Safety Act is nuts
and should be called the Community UNSAFETY Act.
If somebody robs a bank in your neighborhood,
You can't say if the suspect is ASIAN, BLACK, WHITE, or HISPANIC.
You can't say if the person is MALE or FEMALE.
You can't say if the person is 20 OR 60 YEARS OLD.
Leave Law Enforcement up to COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY
and the professionals of the NYPD
The problem, and I bet you can see where I'm going with this, is that those statements are bald-faced lies. The law is about police profiling. Of course you can describe a suspect. Shame on Cats, the lying Greek.

But I can picture Greek grandmother in my neighborhood. She always suspected those Democrats loved crime and supported criminals. And now she knows it to be true because she read Yannis say it in the Herald.